cloudscropWe have this need to tell people we know just the way it is. No matter our limited scope of experience or our incomplete knowledge of the subject, we’ve just got to let the world know we’ve got a handle on it.

I came to a crisis point in my Facebook discussion with one particular antagonist. When the posting stopped for a few days (for reasons you will soon discover) I fell into dire panic. My dearly beloved social media outlet looked so pale; flower gardens and funny cat videos, public declarations of love between participants in a fresh romance, humorous and twisted graphics, none of these were enough. I CRAVED conflict. And the sense of loss over its absence was pervasive.

Here’s how it began. I was reading inflammatory posts from this guy and they had no argumentative position, just random assertions. I decided at some point that enough was enough and someone needed to speak out and counter the BS and that someone was me. I had no illusions of convincing him. My goal was to have him see me as the real live complex counterpart of his straw man, and I knew it was somehow healthy for me to see that behind the annoying statements was another fully valid human being that was becoming a caricature. In other words, to engage in civil dialog.

My sister warned me that this would only end badly. I insisted (with some real evidence) that we were not at each other’s throats but bonded by some higher love, even if I don’t particularly ‘like’ him at certain moments.

So, fast forward to present; I got so steamed at a post of his that I briefly fantasized physical violence against him. All my notions of civil discussion were dispelled and I saw my sister’s warning as truly prescient. Another family member made a pointed remark on the same post about how disturbing she found it all and I was done with it.

I stopped cold and for a time so did he. What followed for me were days of reckoning with the gnawing realization that our philosophical tussle was feeding on some pathological energy. Like a drug addict I started referring to it as “juice.” What was truly upsetting was that in the process of going at it tooth and claw on Facebook we had been disturbing others near and dear to us. So I’m trying to reform. In the future I intend to be more temperate and pick and choose when to participate. Some of my counterpart’s posts require being challenged in the arena and other demand only the echo chamber of silence.

What drives us to this? I call it “prognosturbation” and define it as follows: The powerful need to obsessively pleasure yourself by telling the world what is and what will be.”

I want to live in a different world. The world I want is a world where I learn the most because I admit that I don’t quite get it. It is a world that is suggestive and incomplete in such a tantalizing way that it acts to draw me out.

As a child, we experience the world of adults as a fascinating mystery. I have a memory of listening to the rhythm of adult conversation at a party from my perch on the upstairs landing. I could hear the muffled sounds of many voices rippling back and forth. But then it was a single voice only, and then a pause, and then the delivery of some key opaque phrase, then the laughter. Even though I couldn’t understand the words there was something there that I wanted. It was in the rhythm and in the energy. As children, we start from a place of not getting it. I think that remains the healthy place to be. Not clueless. But listening, curious, engaged, and circumspect.

Have we met?

I was trimming my hedges the other day when I came across this big fellow hurdling through the neighborhood.

At first I couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing but then I realized that my beliefs were also “be-leaves” so I just raked them into a big pile of believes and burned them.

The giant man-shrub wasn’t too thrilled about that. Said he didn’t like the smell. He said he only came over because I had put down my hedge trimmer. I told him the only reason I still saw him was because my believes were burning. His top branches seemed to nod.

Big Tex Burning

When they started the “Burning Man” festival in the Nevada desert, Big Tex knew his days were numbered. He knew that somewhere out there a giant human form was gaining renown by going up in flames every year at some quasi-religious art festival in Nevada. And Tex could only glance over his plaid-clad shoulder at what was coming up for him. The future belonged to fire, not his booming Texas drawl emanating from speakers deep inside his chest. The future was coming in the form of wildly dressed celebrants dancing in circles around a central pyre, not families with kids looking up to hear “Howdy folks!” from a giant animatronic cowboy.  He realized that the battle for the future came down to these two titans. Either follow a man rebuilt each year only to be consumed in orgiastic fire or look to the sweet giant cowboy that was there forever, waving his timeless greeting to the world.

But time stands still for no man. And giant constructions in the shape of a man were no exception. So while the gentle giant of Dallas stood his ground in the Fairgrounds a new world of giant men destined for the flame emerged. Big Tex had found his rival.

Burning Man grabbed all the headlines with his consummate weirdness. A giant man-frame set for the torch in the middle of nowhere. Images of power came from this spectacle of fire in the desert. Enigma waiting to make what of it.

Meanwhile, Tex wasn’t about to let it all slip away. This wasn’t his first rodeo. He knew the territory. The kids came back every year. And the kids grew up and had kids of their own who came back with their fathers and mothers. The generations opened up to embrace him too. They followed one another into an era of Big Tex. The guy with an oversized smile reached his giant arm across the years to touch everyone who stood at his gargantuan feet.

He was meant to last forever. But mankind has its hubris. And giant-sized fabricated greeters in Texas who don’t have to worry about such things have, well… fire apparently. Big Tex caught on fire and burned down to his biggie-sized metal frame.

Big Tex will be back. Better than ever. We look forward to Big Tex Reborn. Surrounded with “No Smoking” signs. Rife with sophisticated fire suppression devices.

Late Tomatoes

Ah… the garden tomato. Poets have sung their praises for eons. Kings have founded dynasties on the geography of their happiness. The gods bend low to share their glory with us when the ripe fruit kisses our tongues.

Well maybe not really. But it seems that way. And they should.

This summer was brutal for my tomato crop. We managed to grab a handful of those tasty red beauties in June before the blaze of summer put an end to it. I had decided to grow some different heirloom varieties, leaving my usual “Early Girl” out of the mix. Well THAT proved to be a costly mistake. In Western Kentucky you need to get that first crop out of the garden and into the BLT before the blast of high heat slams the door.

In July I checked almost daily for those little green pearls to appear in the blossoms. Only later did I learn from a fellow tomatista that the high temperature was putting the k-bosh to the whole process. “They just won’t set at all once it gets above 95,” he announced. A fruitless search indeed.

Maybe the bees get lethargic. July and August simmer down here somewhere just shy of the boiling point and everything… the river, the clouds, the air, yes even time itself melts into a haze that perfectly matches my mental acuity. Somewhere long about September the cool air draws me out of that languid dreamless sleep and I come alive again.

Its early October and I’ve been reasonably conscious for several weeks now. My memory is alive. The flavor returns of that one, single Black Krum heirloom tomato we harvested before both my tomato plants and I went off to the nether regions of heat related delirium. Stefanie and I once shared that tomato in all its transcendent deliciousness. The desire to relive that experience sharpens as I wait on the plump green fruit hanging from my re-energized tomato plants to show signs of transforming. I search for a blush in the green as I begin to reckon on the frost.

As the days shorten the heat I once cursed for abusing all that is vivacious becomes a precious resource for turning my fat green tomatoes red. Please! Allow me just ten more toasty days so that I may kiss the glory once more! For hark! I see the long winter parade of mediocre tomatoes emerging from Kroger on their resolute path towards me.

Going Amish

Amish rockers

It seems that life is tougher now. Certainly more complex. On drives through the beautiful countryside around our home here in western Kentucky I often joke about “Going Amish.” We could write our families and tell them that we wanted to simplify our lives and make beautiful furniture. I could wear that cool looking broad-brimmed black hat and skip shaving. Stefanie could sport the bonnet and her elegantly tailored frock. We’d still drive around in our little screaming yellow Ford Focus of course. Wave to people as we drove by. Give the larger Amish community a bad name when people see an Amish couple cruise by in a yellow hatchback. Endure taunts of “Hypocrites!” and “Why don’t you get a therapist like the rest of us!!”

But is life really all that tough? I don’t mean to make light of anyone’s sense of deprivation since these are tough economic times. But it is relative. And a quick look back at the history of mere survival would suggest that it has been worse. Maybe tougher in some ways like finding something good to watch on TV. It certainly is tougher to remain thoughtful and sensible with our brains infested with all manner of perceived threats to the continuity of the world as we know it. And with major problems looming, it would seem like the right time to sit down and think of ways to make a change. But then any plan of change we come up with begins to seem more scary than where we are right now. So we react. We pull back. We get riled up and demand simple solutions. We demand that our leaders reflect our “core values” as if that alone would somehow make it all clear, in black and white. We forget the preponderance of gray which requires a political process that wends its way through complex issues towards imperfect solutions.

We know change is coming. When it comes to change our brains get into a little scrap where our intellect says “go” and our emotions say “no.” No surprise then that we tend to shut it down and get cozy with the devil that we know. And what works better when faced with daunting change than a good old political platitude, or the balm of soothing escapist entertainment. But what happens to old fashioned thinking and to reasoned discussion then? Where are those spaces between our “events” where we can just sit and reflect?  And what ever happened to all those chunks of silence when there was, for whatever weird reason, no entertainment?

Priorities change. Today its not so important to know things like which philosopher best represents a particular school of philosophy. Even a fan of philosophy like me has trouble bringing those details to mind. On the other hand, I have more luck recalling the featured menu item at some fast food restaurant. So why does “Hand-Breaded Chicken Fingers” spring with clarity to mind when I think of “Hardee’s” and “Existential someone-or-other” emerge through the fog when I think “Heidegger.”

I remember now. One’s easy and one is hard. One involves issues of life and death, being and non-being, and painstakingly scrutinized methods of thinking and speaking. And the other is just plain delicious! Its a no-brainer! (what did I say?). It wasn’t always like this, was it? Am I just imagining a time not so long ago when discussions lasted long into the night about personal interpretations of reality? Seems like silly pseudo-intellectual bloviating now maybe but at least our brains and passions were fully engaged. Like Greece during the first millennium when there were basically two armed camps fighting in the streets because they disagreed about whether Christ was “of one substance” with God, or merely “of like substance.” That all changed of course when we discovered that Life is an enigma, wrapped in a riddle, smothered in secret sauce.